Today I took notice of two stories involving guys who became big movie stars in the 1990s and how their careers, and Hollywood, have changed over the years.
The first one was about Jim Carrey who made an announcement, perfectly timed for maximum publicity, that he won't be doing any publicity for the upcoming movie Kick-Ass 2, because, in the aftermath of the Newtown Massacre, he can no longer condone "that level of violence."
Now that sounds all noble, but is he really concerned about the effect of cinematic violence, or is just trying to shield himself from the charges of hypocrisy the conservative media's been lobbing at him since his attempt to reinvent himself as the voice of gun control.
There are two possible motives for his actions. One is sort-of-noble, the other is very cynical.
The sort-of-noble theory is that he really believes that, despite the nearly 40% drop in violent crime since 1990, that gun violence is a civilizational apocalypse that's due to happen the day after tomorrow, a little after two in the afternoon. He's as passionate against guns as he is against vaccines, and will not only denounce a violent movie he made before his epiphany, but will make some other gesture like return his paycheque and profit participation. It runs the risk of making him seem unemployable in the light of many recent under-performers and outright flops, but if he's truly willing to make that sacrifice he'll think it's worth it.
My theory is that Carrey's antics maybe just that, antics. Not to promote the movie, but to save his flagging career.
He hasn't carried a straightforward live action hit in a very long time, and the audience already looks at him as a bit of a flake after his anti-vaccine crusade, so why not go all in and become what I call a "Media Appealer."
You see a Media Appealer is a star who helps get big roles and paycheques not by appealing to the general audience, which is hard work, but to the media circles in which they live, which is much easier. How easy? Simply subscribe to all the right beliefs, shibboleths, and prejudices of that circle, while demonizing those who don't as unintelligent, possibly insane, and most definitely evil.
Being a media appealer gets you the kind of glowing coverage that convinces the people running studios that you must be relevant and the audience will flock to your movies. If those movies fail, then it's the fault of the audience, then you get a pat on the back for your courage, and another deal to make another movie for another big paycheque. George Clooney's and Sean Penn's career are built on being more appealing to the media than to the audience.
By being a media appealer Carrey may have adroitly given his career some insurance against the possibility of yet another box-office under-achiever. Thus his tirade against his own movie goes from being the action of a washed up entertainer on the road to unemployability, to the rather cynical move of a sharp Hollywood player trying to save his private jet and armed bodyguards.
Roland Emmerich, the bombastic master of disaster, has announced that he's making not one, but two sequels to his 90s hit Independence Day. They will be called Independence Forever Parts I & II, but they will not involve Will Smith who broke into mega-stardom with the first one.
Personally, I wasn't a fan of the first one, but I find it interesting that they're dropping Will Smith's once important character, and the reason why they're dropping it: Money.
Will Smith is just too damn expensive to have around. Outside of his home movie gone epic After Earth, most of his films are still capable of making a couple of hundred million bucks at the box office.
The trouble is that they usually cost somewhere around the GDP of a South American country to get made, and a lot of those costs, including salary, mega-sized trailers, entourage, and other assorted expenses, can be laid right at Mr. Smith's feet. Then you add on his usual "Dollar One" gross participation deal and any profit margin is usually as thin as paper or completely destroyed unless they break box office records.
After Earth may be the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to just signing Smith for the sake of signing Smith. Economics explain that everything, including the star-power of actors, has an inherent value that go up and down over time depending on the constantly shifting and changing forces of the market.
The key to a long career is to offer your star power at a rate commensurate with those market forces that still enables you and the movies you're in to make a profit.
The nature of the current movie business, which is as a relatively small cog in a massive media conglomeration, gives a movie star a certain cushioning against real market forces as long as they are at least seen as a force within their community.
But, and this is a big but, there is a line. A line where it's just no longer feasible to hire you, even if you can rake in the bucks, because the odds of profit over loss might be better without having to pay you than with you bringing in your fans.
Boy, I'm being Mister Cynical today.